Sunday, April 11, 2010

Lugs Branigan

Lugs Branigan-Dublin’s most famous Garda
Rónán Gearóid Ó Domhnaill

Lugs Branigan was a tough but fair guard, who worked the streets of Dublin, becoming part of Dublin folklore. Even today, he is often mentioned in conversations about how safe it was to walk the streets back then when he was on the beat.
He was born as Jim Branigan in 1910 in the South Dublin Union as St. James’ was called back then, but was better known as ‘Branno’ or ‘the Bran’ to his colleagues and ‘Lugs’ to the people of Dublin. His fame as a boxer gave rise to the latter nickname.

William T. Cosgrave was a friend of the family and the young Branigan bore witness to the Easter Rising and saw a British soldier get shot outside the family home. At the age of fourteen, he went to work as a fitter for The Great Southern Railways, which he left at twenty-one. It was a wise career move. Not only was his heart not in his job, but the company tended to dismiss workers when they reached twenty-one in favour of younger employees.
He went to the Garda Depot in the Phoenix Park in 1931 to train as a guard, a job that would turn out to be a vocation. Interestingly the training only lasted six months, much shorter than it is today. After a brief spell outside the capital, he was posted back to his beloved Dublin.
Sport was encouraged among the guards at the time and Lugs soon started boxing. Boxing would make him famous, both inside and outside of the ring. He saw it as a way for the Guards to reach the working class youth of Dublin, the people he had to deal with on a daily basis, and by training them in boxing, he got know them.
In a time with little cooperation between North and South Lugs regularly went north to box against the RUC, first as a boxer and later as a trainer. He became the Leinster heavy weight boxing championship in 1937. He also boxed further afield in Britain, Germany and Sweden. He was in Leipzig in 1938 when he boxed against a German called Pietch. Although he realised he had no chance of winning the match he refused to give up and by the end of the fight, he had the respect of the audience. It was a fight that the Germans spoke about until the 1950s.
Dublin of the thirties and forties was a dangerous place to be and the city had several gangs. It was not long before Lugs was taking on these gangs single-handedly. Over the years, he would build up a collection of offensive weapons, which he had personally confiscated, a collection that is now in The Garda Depot. It was at ‘The Battle of Baldoyle’ in 1940 ‘The Battle of Tolka Park’ in 1942, where Branigan distinguished himself and where the Media, began to write about him.
Lugs was quick to recognise that ‘gougers’ respected him. Unlike other guards, he realised that if he stopped one of them to search or question them they did not insult him or try to assault him. His reputation as a boxer was well known and while he never used a baton, he was not afraid to use his fists. He always said that he only used as much force as was necessary and never hid the fact that he gave delinquents the odd ‘clip’. His ability with his fists was however not his only trait. He arrested criminals as was his duty, but if he believed there was any good in the person he would speak on their behalf. The court respected what he had to say. Thus, many of those he arrested avoided custodial sentences and this increased his respect on the streets of Dublin.
He was very much a community policeman and it was not long before people were going to Kevin Street Garda station and asking for him personally. At times, there would be a queue of people all waiting for help from him.
On the streets, he had a tendency to be in the right place at the right time and his singular presence tended to diffuse potentially hostile situations, not just with individuals, but also with larger groups. At the height of his career, if a riot or other large-scale disturbance was in progress, the cry of “lugs is here” was enough to make even hardened criminals run.
In 1964 when Lugs was a detective sergeant, the riot squad, also known as ‘Branno 5’ a mobile unit, which drove around the city in a Bedford stamping out disturbances, was set up. It proved to be highly effective and as people became accustomed to the sight of the van, crime decreased.
When the stars came to Dublin Lugs was usually allocated to them as their personal bodyguard and his charges included Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton, who were in Dublin for the filming of “The Spy who came in from the Cold”, as well as George Best and Cliff Richard. They were impressed at how well he could deal with people and some even tried to win him over as his personal bodyguard, but to avail. Lugs would never leave Dublin.
He worked his last beat in 1973 and tributes poured in, not only from the national media, but also international, with The Washington Daily Post referring to him as ‘Dublin’s most famous cop’. Ordinary Dubliners also paid tribute to him. Several women around the Liberties said it was Lugs who had saved their marriages after he had had a word with their abusive husbands.
Following his retirement, he spent ten years as head of Security at the Zhivago Nite Club in Baggot Street. A biography by Bernard Neary entitled ‘Lugs The Life and Times of Jim Branigan’ appeared in 1985. A deeply religious man he became ill in the 1980s, but remained philosophical about it saying, “We’ll have to go when the man above decides”. It was decided in 1986.

No comments:

Post a Comment